NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Northern California-born country singer Cam turned a bad dream about an ex-boyfriend into a song that made her musical dream come true.
“Burning House” gave the new singer, whose full name is Camaron Ochs, her first Grammy nomination for best country solo performance after years of writing and crowd-funding her own career.
“There was like three years of being completely broke,” Cam said in a recent interview. “And that’s actually a great blank canvas for dreaming.”
The 31-year-old singer with the curly blond bob and an affection for the color yellow started studying psychology in college, but she quit to pursue singing and writing. She co-wrote Miley Cyrus’ “Maybe You’re Right,” from her well-received 2013 “Bangerz” album, and also wrote for country singer Maggie Rose, but Cam kept pushing toward her own singing career, even raising money through Kickstarter.
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She came up with “Burning House” after regrets about a breakup manifested themselves into a dream that her ex was trapped in a burning house. At the end of the first verse, she sings, “I lay beside you and pulled you close, and the two of us went up in smoke.”
It is a pretty morose topic for a single, but her haunting voice paired with simple piano and guitar backing made it sound starkly different than anything else on country radio.
Grammy-winning producer Jeff Bhasker, who has worked with Kanye West, fun. and Taylor Swift, mentored Cam and helped craft the song with producer and co-writer Tyler Johnson.
“No drums, slow song, odd time signatures, but it just resonated,” Bhasker said of the song.
Bhasker, who is nominated at the Grammys for non-classical producer of the year and record of the year for his work on Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk,” believed in Cam so much that he signed her to his own label, Kravenworks.
“It’s so tough for a woman to get a break in country music,” said Bhasker, who has also worked with Beyonce, Lana Del Rey and Drake. “Especially coming from pop, where it’s like a majority of female artists get lots of radio play.”
Bhasker helped her get a meeting two years ago at Sony Music Entertainment in New York, where she met with the company’s chairman and CEO Doug Morris.
“And I didn’t fully know who Doug Morris was,” Cam said of her first meeting with the label head. “We sang ‘Burning House,’ and Doug closed his eyes and started singing along by the second chorus.”
Fans have a similar reaction when she plays it live. She had thousands of fans singing along when she made a surprise appearance at a concert by country singer Sam Hunt in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, last year.
“I don’t know anything in the world that unites 10,000 people for three minutes and everyone is completely on the same page,” Cam said.
After getting signed by Sony’s RCA Records/Arista Nashville, “Burning House” continued to burn up the charts. It peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard’s Hot country songs chart and went platinum, a rare feat for a new female country artist.
The song also helped Cam earn four nominations at the Academy of Country Music Awards, including single record of the year.
“Burning House” appears on her major label debut, “Untamed,” which was released in December to critical acclaim. And she’s opening on tour for Brad Paisley and Dierks Bentley this year.
“It’s super humbling,” Cam said of her Grammy nomination, which pits her song against tracks by Carrie Underwood, Chris Stapleton, Lee Ann Womack and Keith Urban.
“It’s really nice for myself and for so many people, like as an artist, that you represent. All the people that have gone into making the music and helping it reach so many ears.”
The Grammys will air live Feb. 15 from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The ACM Awards will air live from Las Vegas on April 3. Both shows will air on CBS.
Follow Kristin Hall at http://twitter.com/kmhall/ . Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/kristin-m-hall/